Another simply amazing post by Barbara Ganley today that does a great job of articulating a healthy perspective of kids and computers. It’s another one of those posts that she writes that takes time to read and think through, one that I know I’ll come back to again. She’s been such an amazing teacher these past few years, and I’m not talking about the work that she’s doing with her students at Middlebury either…
The other day in Rochester, during my “Blogging the Verb” presentation, someone asked “what do I say to my administrators when they ask why we should have kids blog?” My answer was that blogging is work, that it’s an intellectual exercise that requires deep reading, critical thinking, synthesis of ideas, and well-organized, clear and correct writing that is built upon links and connections. As I’ve said many times here, this isn’t navel gazing. And I’m guessing my description of blogs as learning tools was fairly eye-opening for many who were in the “online journal” mode.
Barbara’s post is just great blogging, number one, and great thinking to boot. She’s pushed by the writing of Lowell Monke, “Charlotte’s Webpage: Why children shouldn’t have the world at their fingertips.” And, as she says, it is a great article, one that anyone involved in educational technology should read and think about. Here’s his thesis:
Children gain unprecedented power to control their external world, but at the cost of internal growth. During the two decades that I taught young people with and about digital technology, I came to realize that the power of computers can lead children into deadened, alienated, and manipulative relationships with the world, that children’s increasingly pervasive use of computers jeopardizes their ability to belong fully to human and biological communities—ultimately jeopardizing the communities themselves.
What I find most interesting about the article is the context it gives the argument that goes “our kids are bored and we have to create more engaging learning environments for them.” Monke says that’s the problem; the natural environments aren’t engaging any longer because we’re giving our kids “big events” on the computer. We’re sending them to virtual worlds and giving them experiences that offer up ideals and not reality, which in turn makes reality boring. Interesting thought.
But Barbara doesn’t buy it, at least not all of it.
But it’s ridiculous to shun or to vilify the Web-mediated experience. The Web can (just as books and stories can) point students towards the real, have them dream about the world, prompt them to explore it and revise their sense of it. I wish Monke had gone further in his article to discuss ways in which computers in the classroom–coupled with the experiential learning he promotes– can lead to essential discussions about society and expectations and relationships. Why not take those moments in high school when students turn from f2f conversations with members of their own community in favor of the blog or email discussion with someone halfway across the world as opportunities to talk about the reasons, the repercussions, the differences between these experiences? Why not even have elementary school children examine the computer-generated spider next to the real thing?
And this is the “teachable moment” theory of technology instruction, isn’t it? It’s not saying “this technology is changing things…let’s turn it off.” (Sound familiar?) It’s instead saying “this technology is disruptive and changing things…let’s figure out what that means.”
But make no mistake. As Barbara says, this is “uneasy space we are in right now,” made more so by a sense that the transformations we are seeing are different somehow, more important than being able to just create digitally in words and pictures, but to have something really meaningful to do with that work. That it really has been a warm-up act up until now, and that the curtain is coming up on the main event, for this era at least. And that if that’s the case, this is no time to be pulling the plug but instead to be exploring that unease.
Barbara takes the time to weave a compelling narrative around this point that highlights all of the reading and writing and thinking skills that blogging can bring to us, children included. It’s good stuff, grounded in her own experiences and accessible to anyone who has done even a little thinking about this stuff.